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1. What are the three categories of crimes?
2. In what way are indictable offences punished?
3. What offences are heard in the magistrates’ courts?
4. Can an either-way offence be heard in different courts?
5. What is known as a ‘strict liability’ offence?
6. What is the most violent crime in your opinion?
There are three categories of crimes in the UK: indictable, summary, and either-way crimes.
Indictable offences are the most serious ones and are punishable by the longest prison terms. They include murder, rape and robbery and can only be tried in the Crown Court.
Summary offences are the least serious ones, such as speeding and drunk-driving. Summary trials are heard in magistrates’ courts.
Either-way offences can be heard either in the Crown Court or by magistrates. Examples of either way offences include theft, drug offences and less serious physical violence. A magistrate can decide that an either-way offence is serious enough to be heard in the Crown Court where the penalties prescribed can be more severe. If, however, a magistrate decides that an either-way offence can be heard as a summary trial, the defendant can choose to move the trial to the Crown Court.
An important aspect of criminal law is that in most crimes the prosecution has to prove two elements. The first, actus reus, refers to the criminal act itself. The second, mens rea, refers to the intent to commit a crime – ‘guilty mind’. However, in some cases, such as drunk driving or speeding, the prosecution does not have to prove intent. Such offences are said to be of ‘strict liability’.
Types of serious crimes in most jurisdictions are: arson, theft, sexual offences, terrorism. In common law arson is setting fire to the dwelling of another person. Theft sometimes is still known by the traditional name of larceny which probably is the most common crime involving criminal intent. The traditional definition of theft is the physical removal of an object without the consent of the owner. Burglary is entering a building, inhabited vehicle or vessel to steal, to inflict bodily harm or to do unlawful damage. In English law, any entry by an individual into a building with intent to commit theft is burglary.
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Robbery is the commission of theft in circumstances of violence. Robbery takes many forms – from the mugging of a stranger in the street to robberies of banks, involving numerous participants and careful planning.
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